Latin American Art

In Memoriam: A Tribute to Isaac Lif (1927-2019)

By Sotheby's

W idely admired in the Dominican Republic, the name of Isaac Lif is synonymous with business acumen, sportsmanship and cultural refinement. Lif’s parents Pola and Zelko Lifszyc, young Polish immigrants who emigrated to escape Communism, settled in Havana, Cuba in 1927. A brilliant and inquisitive child, Isaac grew into a gifted entrepreneur whose perseverance would transform him into one of the most successful self-made businessmen in Latin America. After a brief residence in the United States in the early 1960s, Lif traveled to different countries seeking a ripe emerging market for his business. Eventually, he settled in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where he co-founded Radiocentro in 1963.

“It is a pleasure to remember Isaac Lif. I speak to you not as the former President of the Dominican Republic but as a simple citizen, one who knew Isaac’s business trajectory and his great vocation for Latin American art and sports. Among his greatest and most consequential achievements are those early radios and Toshiba machines he introduced into so many homes at a time when they were hardly known. He was a true gentleman. Isaac was also the father of the best softball team in the Dominican Republic: the Astroboys of Toshiba, against whom I often played. Although he was not born in this country, he carried the Dominican spirit within him. We love him and hope to share how much he did for us all.”

Under his fifty-year leadership, Radiocentro transformed itself into a symbol of progress and globalization. Today it is considered the leading company in the sale and distribution of household appliances in the Caribbean. Among Radiocentro’s key successes was the introduction of portable transistor radios in the Dominican Republic, a revolutionary strategy that made this modern invention accessible to the underprivileged in cities and rural areas at affordable prices. Widely unavailable until then, Radiocentro’s commercialization of battery-operated radios allowed all Dominicans to enter an age of modernity regardless of economic status. Most importantly, it provided them with an instant connection to the outside world through daily news, popular music, and sporting events.

As an enthusiastic champion of the health and wellbeing of his employees and community, Radiocentro created, under the leadership of Isaac Lif, the Astroboys de Toshiba Sports Club. It was here that in 1986, Isaac inaugurated the school of the New York Yankees in the Dominican Republic. Serving as the headquarters for the Astroboys de Toshiba, a well-known company team and protagonist of the greatest national and international softball victories, this beautiful sports center is also enjoyed by the children of Radiocentro employees during school holidays.

To those in the art world, Issac Lif was a collector at heart. A constant fixture in Latin American art auctions in New York for over thirty years, he was relentless in the pursuit of a deeply personal and extensive collection within the category. While his collecting interests were varied and evolved through time, he preferred historical masterworks created during critical periods of artistic production.

As a patron of the arts, he was a major supporter of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Santo Domingo and a generous sponsor of local artists Ramón Oviedo and Iván Tovar with whom he developed lifelong friendships. A celebrated collector of and advocate for Latin American art, his passion and unique spirit will be dearly missed.

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